By LARRY VAUGHT
LAS VEGAS — After Kentucky’s second loss in four days in Las Vegas on Saturday, graduate transfer Nate Sestina admitted the locker room mood was “pretty solemn” for the Wildcats.
Kentucky lost 69-66 to Utah on Wednesday when it gave minimal effort at best the first 28 minutes and then fell 71-65 to No. 5 Ohio State on Saturday when it trailed almost the entire game gain.
“We have a team full of guys that are ready to play and the game coming up (against Louisville) is huge for us,” Sestina said. “It’s an in state rivalry. Another big toughness game for us, and the tension around that game is so much more and we know that and the attitude for them coming in,
“The attitude for us coming in, it’s kind of the same thing. It’s two big dogs going after it and whoever is hungrier at the end of the game is going to get the bones as (assistant coach) Kenny Payne said to us tonight.”
Kentucky will host Louisville Saturday afternoon in Rupp Arena. The Cardinals are 11-1 with wins over Miami, Michigan and Pittsburgh and the only loss came to Texas Tech.
The last time Kentucky went into the Louisville game with a two-game losing was 30 years ago. On top of that, UK has only lost more than two straight games once in John Calipari’s 11 seasons but likely will be an underdog against Louisville even with the game in Rupp Arena (remember Evansville has already won in Rupp Arena this year).
“It’s going to be a dogfight and Cal said to us today that they’re like 1-11 against us and however long and that’s big. I mean they’re coming in looking to get a win,” Sestina said. “We’re coming off of two losses.”
Obviously Calipari mentioned the Louisville game a few times before he sent the players home to spend Christmas with their families.
“They think that we’re going to come in and kind of lay an egg, so I think for us and for me personally and even though I haven’t played in this game you understand what it’s like to play in big games and in a rivalry game like this is something that I’m really looking forward to,” Sestina said.
“When I committed here that was one of the games that they talked about, so I’m really looking forward to it. Got to get away, take a little mental break, be home for Christmas. I know everybody’s going to be in the gym, everybody’s going to be working out and we’re going to come back and get after it.”
They better because the Cardinals have shown the will “get after it” and beating Kentucky would be Louisville coach Chris Mack’s signature win with the Cardinals.
However, Calipari has had a knack for pushing teams that struggle early to succeed in March. Could it happen again?
“We had our up-and-downs last year. This year it’s the same thing,” sophomore guard Ashton Hagans said. “We lose, we always hear something but we just got to stick with each other.
“Cal’s coaching us to win in March and so we just got to keep on fighting no matter what happens, just stick with each other like I said earlier and just keep fighting.”